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Indian American Political Strategists, Advocates and Aspirants Join Lawmakers at the ‘Impact Summit’ in Washington, D.C.

Indian American Political Strategists, Advocates and Aspirants Join Lawmakers at the ‘Impact Summit’ in Washington, D.C.

  • Discussions at the largest gathering of influential South Asian American politicos included pressing issues facing the nation and ways to mobilize and increase participation of the community.

Indian American elected officials, youth leaders, aspiring lawmakers, influential politicos and policymakers, and community organizers, congregated in the nation’s capital on May 18 to explore the dreams and ambitions of South Asian Americans, and discuss ways to work together to build a more equitable, safer, and prosperous country for all.

Young politicos at the Indian American Impact Summit in Washington, D.C., May 18. Top photo, from left, Snigdha Sur, CEO of The Juggernaut who moderated the opening session, Rep. Ro Kanna (D-Calif.), Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.), and Rep. Ami Bera (D-Calif.).

Speaking at a day-long summit organized by the Indian American Impact Project, panelists elaborated on the summit’s theme, ‘Dream With Ambition,’ taking a cue from Vice President Kamala Devi Harris’ rousing victory speech in Wilmington, Delaware, on Nov. 6, 2020, where she implored young Americans to “dream with ambition, lead with conviction and see yourselves in a way that others may not simply because they’ve never seen it before.” 

Discussions centered around several pressing topics like the rise in hate crimes, immigration, climate change, healthcare, combating misinformation, increasing voter turnout, increasing LGBTQ+ awareness and creating a space and voice for oneself. Panelists talked about their personal journeys and their path to overcoming hurdles along the way. They encouraged South Asian Americans to run for office, whether at the local, district, state, or federal level, to get a spot at the table, and make a difference, using ambition and transforming it into action. 

Aruna Rao, left, executive director and founder of Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies and Rohini Kosoglu, domestic policy adviser to Vice President Kamala Harris. 

The event provided the community a space to come together to discuss and debate hot button issues, advance civil rights in the diaspora, and engage in conversations to encourage more South Asian Americans to run for public office.

During the opening panel discussion moderated by Snigdha Sur, CEO of The Juggernaut, Reps. Raja Krishnamoorthi, Ro Khanna, and Ami Bera touched upon several topics affecting Americans, including representation, inflation, abortion rights, and green card backlog, and talked about individual bills and policies they are working on “to enhance the interests of America.” 

Bera, the first and the oldest Indian American in U.S. Congress, talked about the changing political landscape and recognized those who are elected to local and state governments, like Cincinnati Mayor Aftab Pureval, and lauded organizations like the Indian American Impact Project and others who are working on the ground, to mobilize the votes and encourage civic engagement in the community.  

Both Khanna and Krishnamoorthi weighed in on the recently leaked draft Supreme Court opinion, penned by Justice Samuel Alito, that overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which has been on the books for nearly 50 years and has ensured abortion is a protected federal constitutional right. “People’s rights have been taken away,” said Khanna, adding that he doesn’t remember a time in his life when rights were taken away. “This is moving the country backward, because of an ideology and a conservative movement that has fundamentally rejected the principle of equality between man and woman.” 

Vermont State Sen. Kesha Ram, who’s running for the U.S. Congress, introduces New Jersey Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer during the ‘Women Who Lead’ panel at the Indian American Impact Summit in Washington, D.C., May 18. 

Krishnamoorthi gave a shout-out to his colleague Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) who was unable to attend due to a Covid-19 diagnosis. He talked about her testifying before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform during their hearing on the need to protect and expand abortion rights and access. Jayapal spoke about her own abortion and very painful ways of what led to her decision, and “how important it was for her own individual autonomy and independence,” Krishnamoorthi said. “And that is really what is at stake here. It’s about independence, whether or not we believe in gender equity, and reproductive freedom,” he added, warning that “this is just the beginning.” Noting that the stakes of this election are higher than ever before, he urged the community to not be complacent and to mobilize in large numbers. 

Attendees heard from celebrated women path-breakers like Neera Tanden, who as White House Staff Secretary and Senior Adviser to the President has the distinction of being the first Indian American in the presidential cabinet; Rohini Kosoglu, Domestic Policy Advisor to Vice President Kamala Harris; and Opal Vadhan, personal aide to Vice President Kamala Harris. Through their individual stories, they encouraged women to make their voices heard. The ‘Women Who Lead’ discussion was moderated by Vermont State Sen. Kesha Ram, who’s running for the U.S. Congress.

Harini Krishnan, California co-state director for South Asians for Biden, right, with Opal Vadhan, personal aide to Vice President Kamala Harris, center, and Vermont State Sen. Kesha Ram, who’s running for the U.S. Congress. 

The women trailblazers spoke about their family’s reactions to their chosen careers of civil service and public policy and how the difference in perception of ambition differs for a man and a woman. Through their personal stories, they told women in the audience the importance of taking credit for the work they put in and their successes. 

The summit included several concurrent discussions and training sessions that focused on the global climate crisis, healthcare access and equity, civil and voting rights, educational equity, running for public office, deciphering and combating misinformation in digital spaces, mobilizing the South Asian American communities, pan-South Asian mobilization and unity, LGBTQ+ inclusion and immigration. 

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In an inspiring dialogue, youth leaders gave an insight into their journey into public service and shared tips and advice for aspiring candidates. Those who participated in the discussion were immigration activist Pareen Mhatre, communications manager for Improve the Dream; Bushra Amiwala, members of Skokie Board of Education in Illinois, and youngest elected Muslim woman in America; and immigrant rights activist Sumana Kaluvai, founder of The Hidden Dream. 

Aruna Miller, left, former Maryland State Delegate with Victoria Virasingh, who is running in the primary for the Democratic nomination for Virginia’s 8th congressional district.

Some of the other panelists were Todd Schulte, president of; Dip Patel, founder of Improve the Dream; Meghna Damani, award-winning filmmaker and advocate for H-4 dependent spouses; Sunu Chandy, legal director of the National Women’s Law Center; Vaibhav Jain, National Outreach Director at AAPI Victory Fund; Parag Mehta, managing director and president of the Policy Center at JP Morgan Chase; Aruna Rao, executive director and founder of Desi Rainbow Parents & Allies; North Carolina State Senator Jay Chaudhuri; Aruna Miller, former Maryland State Delegate, Cherry Hill, New Jersey Councilwoman Sangeeta Doshi, Pennsylvania State Sen. Nikhil Saval; Chiraag Bains, Deputy Assistant to the President for Racial Justice and Equity; Jigar Shah, director of the Loans Program Office with Department of Energy; and Keya Chatterjee, Executive Director at U.S. Climate Action Network.

One of the highlights of the event was a video address by Vice President Kamala Harris. She spoke about her mother, Shyamala Harris, who, at 19, came to the U.S. from India to become a breast cancer researcher. “She raised my sister and me to believe that we could be anything and do anything, if we set our minds to it,” Harris said. “She taught us to ‘Dream with Ambition’ and so many of you gathered here today have something special in common. You see what can be unburdened by what has been.” She continued: “Today my message to you is this — let us always remember, what brought us to this moment and continue to dream with ambition, continue to lead with conviction, continue to strive to do the impossible. Because you, and we all, are standing on the shoulders of so many who came before, and living their dreams. Our nation is counting on you, on Impact, and all of us to lead us forward.”

After a day full of discussions, engagement, learning and inspiration, the attendees, many dressed in colorful Indian attire, mixed and mingled over cocktails and snacks, at the gala. Lawmakers and speakers on various panels engaged with attendees to carry the morning conversations further. Spotted at the gala were White House Coronavirus Response Coordinator Ashish Jha, Indian Ambassador to the U.S. Taranjit Singh Sandhu, Gautam Raghavan, director of the White House Presidential Personnel Office; New Jersey Assemblywoman Sadaf Jaffer; Victoria Virasingh, a candidate running in the primary for the Democratic nomination for Virginia’s 8th congressional district; leadership from South Asians for American or SAFA including Harini Krishnan, Avinder Chawla, Shruti Bhatnagar; Shekar Narasimhan, chairman at AAPI Victory Fund; and Judge Juli Mathew, County Court at Law No. 3 in Fort Bend County, Texas, among others.

Co-founded by Deepak Raj, managing director of New Jersey-based private investment firm Raj Associates, and Raj Goyle, former member of the Kansas State House, and led by executive director Neil Makhija, Impact “works to build power for the Indian American and South Asian community and enact progressive change by activating, engaging, and electing Indian Americans and South Asians across the United States, and working with our allies to deliver policies that lift up all communities,” according to its website.

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  • As an Indian myself, I feel proud the way Indians in general are rising up to the occasion. They have some of the highest incomes per capita, which I might add comes from working hard based on their education standards and work ethic. However, we also need to emulate ‘the best’ behavior , to set a good example for our community. To give an example, where I live they built a beautiful state-of-the-art Community Center with workout facility, swimming pool and other sports facilities. Unfortunately at the end of the day the toilets are trashed with paper and water all over the place, most of it caused by loud and uncouth Indian youth. We need to change our bad habits.

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